“You should go to the gym and stop eating unhealthy foods. Are you not afraid of dying young because you are obese?” Time and time again, we are told that when we are a certain weight we are either overweight or unhealthy according to ‘proven’ scientific research. Modern science is, however, challenging this research to prove that indicators like the BMI (Body Mass Index) are inaccurate and causing damage to people, particularly those of colour. In this article, we investigate the truths about weight, health and fitness. So what is healthy? Who is actually fit and does my weight determine whether I am unhealthy or unfit?
We reached out to Tafadzwa Makamure, also known as Tavha who is currently studying MSc in Sports Management. Tavha is a plus-size fitness and hockey player who is passionate about challenging society’s standards on fitness expectations and norms. She hopes to teach and make us unlearn the notion that plus-size bodies cannot achieve the same levels of fitness that their smaller counterparts can reach.
‘I have been a plus-size athlete for a while now and have always been looked down upon because of my body. I truly feel as though society has created the ideal athlete’s body type and it is sad because young girls suffer from a lack of confident in their bodies. My physical appearance has always led to people judging my sporting abilities or skills as soon as they see me.
I have been an athlete for about 22 years now and I do not see myself giving up as I feel that I am here to spread the word that plus size women deserve a spot in the athletics world; I want to help propel other individuals to understand that you can do anything you set your heart and mind to. I believe I defy all the odds; I sprint 100m, I play hockey, I box and take part in boot camps. One thing that drives me is being told that I am unable to do something because of my body. Being a plus size woman or as others prefer to say, being fat, is not an indicator of being unhealthy or ugly.
My BMI is obese, but I am healthy (I have check-ups here and there just to keep on board), fit and still a champion even after enduring the most painful injuries. But thanks to society, the moment you are seen as obese you are taken as someone who cannot even walk from one point to another. I always challenge people to a race because not only am I proving them wrong, but I am proving myself right. As a plus size woman, I want to encourage younger girls to be confident in their bodies and never doubt themselves. Our bodies are fighters, and we need to stand by them. Society has nothing on us!
I am not here to brag, but I am a SOLID and FIT plus size athlete, and I AM NOT DONE YET.
P.S: Someone’s weight must not bother you’.
To understand further the ‘scam’ of BMI, Marcia Maphosa, a qualified fitness coach and trainer unpacked the truths about how to actually keep fit and healthy:
‘Grab roll number one, now number two around your stomach. Whilst at it, poke the beautiful naturally accumulated cellulite that covers your thighs, and let us not forget the tiger stripes that are wrapped around your intricately designed body. That is what you see in the mirror and that is what society has used to convince you that you are overweight or unhealthy. Everything I have described, according to society does not define beauty, health, or fitness.
Society has failed to be honest and transparent with us about the prevalence of eating disorders, poor self-esteem, body dysmorphia and social sacrifice. Marketing companies have found ways to keep us insecure and chasing numbers on the scale that have long been outdated. One of the marketing schemes used is known as the Body Mass Index. According to the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute this is the measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. However, what research fails to mention is that the BMI was designed by Adolphe Quetelet for white European males without keeping people of colour in mind (the colonised). According to the “Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology”, the Body Mass Index is only 50% accurate when detecting obesity cases in black, white and Hispanic women. The Endocrine Society states that “BMI overestimates fitness and health risks for black people”.
Science continues to expose the inaccuracies of BMI measurements. But it is still widely used today despite the proven research. It is still extremely popular in gyms, with your local doctor and in weight loss competitions. People will continue to stubbornly hold on to this to marginalise certain groups of people.
Being rigid with our measurements and what defines who is healthy or not has made this world obsessed and neurotic. We should be moving towards being more understanding, creating health plans with individualised approaches, empathetic coaching, recognising that you can enjoy a cheeseburger and still care about your health. You really do not have to exercise to only burn calories, lose weight and fit into a number designed to have you fail. You can engage in exercise simply because it makes you feel good. That alone is a perfectly valid reason.”
The next time we think someone is unhealthy or unfit, we need to ask ourselves, firstly, is this an opinion or fact? Next we need to realise that we have been indoctrinated to believe in western standards that are unrealistic and causing more damage than good on our society. Tafadzwa and Marcia have stated points that should make us reconsider how we measure health and fitness and encourage us to seek real methods of attaining true health and fitness goals.
By: Delyse Gimani